Chapter Three: The Snare of Perceived Needs

Chapter Three The Snare of Perceived Needs

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The most significant trap that tripped up Mable was that her desire for marriage and companionship had morphed into something God never intended. She had gotten caught up in the self-centered craving for perceived needs, as popularized by our culture. She saw the good God offered her through the lens of contemporary Christian literature rather than through the lens of Scripture. “Love Languages,” “Love and Respect,” “His Needs, Her Needs”: these are some of the books and buzzwords that are bandied about Christendom to find wholeness, resolve relational conflict, and live your best life now. While I understand why such materials exist, in marriage counseling specifically, these concepts are generally more of a hindrance than a help.

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This cultural worldview had most assuredly hindered Mable. If she had a proper understanding of God and His gospel, her approach would have been more like the Savior’s, which looked like serving rather than seeking to be served: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Rarely do counselees think this way. They do not see the necessity of restoring their relationship with God, which flows naturally into a desire to serve others more than themselves (Philippians 2:3-4). This God-centered, other-centered perspective was a massive hole in Mable’s thinking. She seemed not to understand that her sinful attitudes toward Biff and her desire for Biff to meet her needs had grieved God and had, in part, set the marriage up for failure.

The weight of the marriage failure was not entirely her fault, but she was the one who had sought counseling and, at that time, the only one I could counsel. Mable’s main concern was that her husband had not met her needs or spoken her love language. She also had a list of ideas of how he could express her love language more practically. Later, upon further exploration with Biff, I learned he was frustrated because his wife did not respect him. He had ideas of what his love for her could look like if only she would make the first move by meeting his needs, which began with love and respect. Each spouse had been manipulating the other, while neither grieved over how they had dishonored God.

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Their relationship was more about mutual need-meeting than confessing their sin against God. If they chose to restore their broken relationship with God, they would be well on their way to restoring their relationship with each other. Any Christian spouse can get the love they desire. But they won’t find it through self-centered or self-serving methods. Manipulating love out of a person is not love, and skipping or marginalizing God to have a great marriage is like trying to have a wonderful meal without food. It is incoherent. When a spouse understands the gospel rightly, they will see how it is not about meeting needs but pursuing each other in other-centered love.

You love Christ so much because He unselfishly came to this planet to rescue you from your sin. He saved you, and now He is restoring you to Himself. One day He will allow you to join Him in heaven to live an eternal existence with Him. He accomplished this by taking on human flesh, living three decades on Earth, and then dying on the cross. God poured out His wrath on Christ while hanging on that cross. Christ hung in our place. This worldview is the gospel. It is unfathomable, stunning love. This kindness bends our hearts toward Christ in repentance. How nice it would be if we could dismiss the Christian mutual need-meeting ideas and seek practically to be kind to one another the way Christ has been kind to us, as motivated by and understood through the cross. Paul talked about this unimaginable love when he said,

Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).

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Rather than figuring out our love languages, we can die to ourselves and aggressively love others. In God’s economy, we receive by giving, not focusing on what others do for us. This perspective is what Paul was saying in Ephesians 5:27: “So that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Christ will receive what He paid and worked for—a church in all her splendor. A husband who chooses to die to his desires and seeks to serve his wife will receive a special kind of lady. A wife who decides to do the same for her husband will be well on her way to enjoying a much better marriage. As I have pondered this question about genuine needs, I have come up with what I believe is an exhaustive list.

  • Physical Needs: air, water, shelter, food, health
  • Spiritual Needs: God’s salvation and ongoing Spirit empowerment

In counseling, however, it is a different story. I have heard person after person give me a laundry list of all their needs. Here are a few frontrunners: love, sex, communication, companionship, significance, acceptance, and respect. Many Christians confuse the necessity of needs with desires. They do not realize how their craving for things in their extended need list controls them. Often I will illustrate the difference between a need and a desire this way:

If you held me underwater in a swimming pool, I would fight you to the end because I need air. A need is something you cannot live without. But when you elevate desires to the level of needs, there is a form of idolatry happening, and if you don’t repent of the idolatry, that craving will wreck the relationship from which you are trying to extract that perceived need.

Call to Action

  1. What would you add to your list of physical or spiritual needs? Why? Can you live without them?
  2. If you were on a deserted island, would you need everything on your list, or are there a few things that are desires?
  3. How would a person behave if they made a non-need a need, and the person they expected it from was not supplying it?
  4. Have you ever elevated a desire to a need and sinned against someone for not meeting your particular need?

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